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CNN: French prime minister defends police handling of gunman Merah
By the CNN Wire Staff
March 23, 2012 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Toulouse (CNN) -- French police had no grounds on
which to arrest gunman Mohammed Merah before he carried out three
attacks in which seven people died, Prime Minister Francois Fillon told
French radio station RTL Friday.
Merah, 23, who was shot
dead by special forces Thursday after a siege lasting more than 30 hours
in the southwestern city of Toulouse, was wanted in the killings of
three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three children ages 4, 5, and 7.
Merah, a French citizen
of Algerian descent, had been put under surveillance after trips to
Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials have said, leading commentators to
ask why he was not stopped sooner.
He claimed to have
attended an al Qaeda training camp, according to Paris prosecutor
Francois Molins, and was on the U.S. no-fly list for that reason, a U.S.
intelligence official said.
And Toulouse lawyer Eric
Mouton, acting for a woman named only as Aicha, to protect her privacy,
told CNN she filed a complaint against Merah in 2010 over alarming
behavior Merah displayed toward her children.
Aicha claimed that Merah
had beaten up her daughter, 19 at the time, and held her son, 15,
against his will in a room for several hours, forcing him to watch
videos of violent combat and of people's throats being slit.
Mouton said he would meet
with Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet later Friday to discuss the case.
It is not known if any action was taken against Merah at the time.
Fillon defended the
police and intelligence services, saying they had done a remarkable job
in finding the killer within 10 days of the first attack, on March 11.
Police siege in Toulouse
Close up look at French raid
Timeline of Toulouse standoff
Gunman's attack videos reportedly found
Fillon acknowledged that some questions should be asked, particularly with regard to surveillance.
But, he said, "there was no single element" that would have allowed the police to arrest Merah before the killings began.
"We don't have the right
in a country like ours to keep under permanent surveillance without a
judicial decision someone who has committed no offense," he told RTL.
"We live in a country under the rule of law."
Crowds gathered in a square in central Toulouse at lunchtime Friday to remember those killed in the attacks.
Toulouse Mayor Pierre
Cohen called the rally in solidarity with the families of the victims
and as a demonstration of unity against anti-Semitism and racism, CNN
affiliate BMF-TV reported.
carrying shovels, metal detectors and hammers re-entered Merah's
apartment Friday, continuing their search of the premises.
A police cordon
surrounding the property was removed in the afternoon, exposing the
messy aftermath of the gun siege to those at the scene.
The first floor balcony
from which Merah jumped, still firing, before being shot in the head,
has been boarded up. Bullet holes pock the walls and nearby cars, and
broken glass lies scattered around.
Elizabeth Allannic, a
spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor, said the detention of Mohammed
Merah's mother, brother and his brother's girlfriend had been extended
Police tracked Merah
down via his mother's computer IP address, which was apparently used to
respond to an ad posted by the first victim, officials said. Interior
Minister Claude Gueant initially told reporters it was the IP address of
Merah's brother that led investigators to him.
Fillon said the French
domestic intelligence service, the DCRI, had done its job "perfectly
well, it identified Mohammed Merah when he traveled to Afghanistan and
Pakistan, it questioned him and it monitored him, he was under
surveillance, on a list, and it was thanks to that listing that he was
"It watched him for the
necessary period, and it led to the conclusion that there was no
indication or trace that Mohammed Merah was a dangerous man."
determine whether Merah acted alone, the prime minister told RTL. He
added: "We must not mix religious fundamentalism with terrorism."
French President Nicolas
Sarkozy vowed increased legal measures to punish those who pursue
extremist activities online or travel overseas for indoctrination and
He spoke Thursday as campaigning resumed for the French presidential election, with the first round of voting due next month.
Rival candidate Francois
Hollande, appearing at a rally Thursday night, said questions will have
to be asked about the Merah case, French media reported.
Earlier, French Foreign
Minister Alain Juppe told radio network Europe 1 that "light must be
shed" on events leading up to the shootings by Merah.
"I understand that one
can ask whether there was a failing or not. As I don't know if there was
a failing, I can't tell you what kind of failing, but light must be
shed on that," Juppe said.
The day after his third
and final attack, on a Jewish school, Merah was tracked down to an
apartment in Toulouse, where a siege began in the early hours Wednesday.
It finally came to a
bloody end Thursday morning, when Merah emerged from a bathroom in his
apartment and fired more than 30 shots at police who had burst in to end
the standoff, Molins said.
Merah then jumped out a window onto a balcony, still shooting, and was found dead on the ground, officials said.
He died from a gunshot wound to the head, Molins said.
After Merah's death,
Sarkozy said everything had been done to bring him to justice alive but
security forces could not be exposed to further risk.
Authorities said the
young man cited a variety of reasons for the killings, including the
missions of French troops abroad, the oppression of Palestinians and
France's ban on the wearing of Islamic veils.
Townsend: Fear of 'lone wolf' scenario
Sarkozy calls for unity in France
After Merah was killed,
police found video he had recorded of the attacks, ammunition and
ingredients for explosives, Molins said.
In the video of the
first shooting of a French soldier in Toulouse, Merah told the soldier,
"You kill my brothers, I kill you," Molins told reporters. Another video
shows Merah gunning down two more French soldiers in Montauban. He is
heard saying "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," Molins said.
Gueant said Merah had been under surveillance by French intelligence for years.
He had "already committed certain infractions, some with violence," Gueant said.
Merah was sentenced 15 times by a Toulouse juvenile court when he was a minor, Molins said. The charges mostly involved theft.
In the first shooting on
March 11, Imad Ibn Ziaten, a paratrooper of North African origin,
arranged to meet a man in Toulouse who wanted to buy a scooter Ziaten
had advertised online, the interior minister said. The victim said in
the ad that he was in the military.
Four days later, two
other soldiers were shot dead and another injured by a black-clad man
wearing a motorcycle helmet in a shopping center in the city of
Montauban, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Toulouse.
In the attack at the
private Jewish school Ozar Hatorah on Monday, a man wearing a motorcycle
helmet and driving a motor scooter pulled up and shot a teacher and
three children -- two of them the teacher's young sons -- in the head.
The other victim, the daughter of the school's director, was killed in
front of her father.
Police said the same guns were used in all three attacks.
CNN's Diana Magnay, Saskya Vandoorne, Anna Prichard and Alex Felton contributed to this report.